Editorial Features

Won’t Come Back From Dead Man’s Curve (Because You’ll Want to Stay All Year)

by | Sep 4, 2017

MAHWAH, New Jersey – Six years ago, everyone in the New Jersey car show hobby thought Dead Man’s Curve had lost their collective minds. Here was an organization, albeit with a history of successful car shows, that thought to challenge the long-standing, powerful, reigning champion of Labor Day car events in the area, Lead East, by hosting their own competing car show the same weekend. Even those of us who have struggled with Lead East for various in the past, and the number is growing, still looked askance at their bold and aggressive move.

But, in the world of racing and classic cars, boldness and aggression often pay off, and this year’s Dead Man’s Curve Car Show, hosted at the Mahwah Sheraton this past weekend, certainly did. Without a doubt, the event this year surpassed all the iterations that had come before and played a true and dangerous competitor to Lead East.

Why should any of this matter? After all, from the perspective of the car enthusiast, more shows across the weekend can only be better. That’s undoubtedly true. No, the reason that Dead Man’s Curve’s success matters is because it’s not an isolated incident. A large factor in why this upstart, rebel with a cause car show was able to pull off such a stunning upset, is actually a theme, something we’re going to see across the entire classic car hobby, as evidence of the changing times comes into starker focus.

That’s it, right there. Times are changing. And where Lead East battened down the hatches and said, not for us, they’re not, Dead Man’s Curve saw the writing on the wall. 

But more on that in a moment. There are many elements that contributed to this year’s event, both the good and the areas that could be worked on in the future. One of the most important things to point out is that last year’s Lead East unabashedly upped their prices. For a car event intended for families, where many people spend the entire weekend, charging over $125 for a car and two people’s admission for the day is undoubtedly going to drive people away. And it did, likely in droves.

We saw evidence of both attendee and vendor jumping ship, with recognizable cars and merchandise in the DMC parking lot. People will always respond with their wallets. In the interest of full disclosure, Lead East did lower their prices with their tails between their legs and an apology letter, but the damage was already done for many attendees.

That’s not to say DMC is a cheap event. It’s not. But it is less expensive and for many people, that’s enough. There are other places DMC could work to improve as well. While they also have the hotel and several lots of the Lead East model, there’s a lack of cohesion between the spaces that leaves the attendee standing in the middle of the semicircle wondering if maybe they’ve seen that Chevy before. But that can be worked on. Rearranging the tents and bringing the outside in and the inside out is a matter of trial and error, finding what works until something sticks. It’s by no means a make it or break it detail.

And that willingness to change, to move cars around, to move vendors around, to bring in new race cars, new funny cars, new celebrities, that flexibility is the very thing that is going to keep the car culture alive.

One of the fundamental problems Lead East has been grappling with for the last few years is that they aren’t lost in the 1950s, so much as stuck in the 1950s. As a classic car lover who was born during the era of Britney Spears and Beanie Babies, I have often felt like an outsider looking through the wrong end of a glass. Sure, I can love the cars and the culture, but the fact that it’s not my culture will forever keep me an outsider looking in.

The rough, rude, stark truth of it is that there’s just not as many of those folks left as there used to be, and if long-standing car shows like Lead East refuse to acknowledge the aging nature of their demographic, they’re going to be in for a very unhappy awakening. Because when you become dependent on another generation of attendees to fill your lots and your coffers, either you start appealing to them, welcoming them, evolving for them, or you don’t have a show.

Bear in mind, I’m not talking about myself. At twenty-five, I’m still not the core demographic of the classic car world. But my dad is. He’s still going to events with the vim and vigor of years past, and he was born at the tail end of the milkshake age. It’s not his time anymore than it was mine. 

Where Lead East has decided to go down with the ship, shows like Dead Man’s Curve and The Race of Gentlemen have taken a different approach. Bring back the hot rods, of those early, ratty eras that don’t belong to any of us still around, make custom mainstream cool, recognize that a vast numbers of these cars are only still around because they have been resto-modded. We either change, evolve, patch up and tape together, or we die. True in the wild and true in the cars we love.

While it’s difficult to track the evolution of the car show hobby, since the very idea of the car show is both new and relatively untested, I can believe we can say without hesitation that this is the start of a very large wave of change. The shows that accept the new tides, that welcome the alternate enthusiasts, are the ones growing stronger. The shows that grip to the past with both hands, will eventually become it. 

This is not a bad thing. As car enthusiasts, at the end of the day, all we want is the chance to look at cars, to appreciate them and love them and enjoy them. If it means that the car hobby has to evolve to survive, that’s fine by me. Far as I’m concerned, there’s no cooler car to drive into the future than a good old school, flame throwing hot rod, anyway.  

Photos by Tomm Scalera, Overhead shot provided by Dead Man’s Curve